Have you ever had to tell your child, "Please don't lick the magazines?" Or the windows on a school bus? Or another person? Have you ever had to tell your child not to bite the dog?
I have. It comes with the territory of raising M.
We practice ordering food in a restaurant and giving money. We work on remembering to say "please" and "thank you" and "excuse me." We practice pushing shopping carts through busy grocery stores and picking items from a list. We work on standing patiently in a line and using an inside voice.
We practice appropriate social conversation and that it is good to say "hello" and "good bye" to the grocery store checker, but it is not appropriate to hug the customer standing next to you in line or to lick the magazines on the rack or open the candy bars at check out and start eating them. (My son needs to be taught these things.)
It is good practice for me as well. It is good for me to expose M to different situations, different venues. It is important for M to experience changes in routines and to alter expectations from time to time. It is practice for me on what strategies to use to cope with public (and frequently loud) meltdowns.There is a sense of pride for all of us when we've experienced success in public settings. A sense of accomplishment. Perhaps even a lick of "normal."
Outings are rarely easy and can be insanely stressful. There have even been a few times when I have secretly wished I could pretend I didn't know M and just walk away. They are essential in order to give M the tools he will need to navigate in the future without me ever present at his side.
Case in point....
Last week, I signed Miss J and M up for the public library's Summer Reading Program. I have done this every summer since they were little. Miss J and M log the books they've read and sit down with a volunteer to discuss a book. They enjoy playing games with the teenage volunteers and winning plastic toy trinkets and coupons for free scoops of ice cream.
It is also another lesson for M.
M learns how to sit at the table across from the library volunteer to quietly discuss his book. While other eight year old boys are reading Harry Potty and Percy Jackson, M devours Curious George. With limited speech, conversation skills are worked on as M tells the volunteer what adventures George had and what mischief he got into. I am sure the volunteer has no idea of the significance it is for M to have this simple conversational exchange or to be able to recall details of a child's book. This is huge for M.
I am hit with a wave of sadness and guilt as I send Miss J off on her own to find the next books for her to check out.. She is old enough and is certainly capable of navigating the library on her own, but I send her off on her own out of the necessity of having to closely monitor her brother. How long she can spend browsing is entirely dependent on her brother's mood that day.
She wanders off. I work with M on selecting new books. I hush his voice and remind him not to hastily grab a handful of books off the shelf at once. I show him how to grasp the spine with his thumb and forefinger and carefully remove the book from the shelf and then to place it into his canvas library bag.
M spies the toys meant for the preschoolers. I try to dissuade him, but he insists on playing with the cars. I allow it, hoping it will buy more time for Miss J to get her books. M picks up a wooden car and places it on a track. The car glides along the top track before dropping to another track below and repeating the process two more times.M lays his five foot tall body on the floor, his face resting on the carpet. He watches the car zigzag left and right down the track. Over and over and over again.
He is talking to the wooden car. "Go down.....go down again....go down again." He repeats this with each pass of the car on the track. The car's repetitive movement excites M and he begins to flap his arms.
I see younger children stop playing with their puzzles and dolls to give M curious looks. I notice the eyes of nearby mothers peering over the tops of books. I notice Miss J sink deeper out of sight into an aisle of books.
I notice this.
Miss J notices.
M does not.
I notice this.
Miss J notices.
M does not.
I recognize that it is time to leave. I manage to collect M and our books and get Miss J and head for check out.
I feel the pairs of eyes on my back. I know they must wonder:
"What is wrong with that kid?"
"Why does his mother bring him here?"
"How does she do it?"
"I'm glad I don't have to deal with that."
If I could answer them, I would tell them this:
I am here with hope that, someday, M will be able to manage a simple task of checking out a library book by himself and without attracting attention. That perhaps, someday, he will be able to order a meal, cross a street or ride a bus without me. I would tell them that these goals, which may seem so simple to them, are huge for M. That reaching these goals are my heart's desire.
That my hope is, someday, he will not need to be reminded to refrain from licking magazines and hugging strangers and saying hello and goodbye to inanimate objects.
That my dream is to help my son fit into a world not built for him.